The Music of Mad Men Season 4: The Definitive Guide
Since we are forced to suffer without any new episodes of Mad Men until July 2011, let’s relive and rehash season 4. And there’s no better way to do that than by making your very own Mad Men Season 4 musical playlist! Many fans analyze the meaning of the songs used by Matthew Weiner almost as much they do the way Don Draper sits in deep thought and how Joan Holloway walks. So I started thinking…these might be rather interesting to examine in retrospect, as they might be that exists closest thing to actual Mad Men spoilers.
Immediately after Public Relations, the season premiere, I downloaded the Nashville Teens’ Tobacco Road. The British pop band emerged on the scene in 1964–when naturally, Brit bands were all the rage. Tobacco Road is also an excellent example of how young British bands in the early 60s were heavily influenced by the sounds of the Southern United States. The folk song, written by John D. Loudermilk five years prior, was a semi-autobiographical tale of rough living in Durham, North Carolina.
Tobacco Road was perfect for the premiere episode, as Don Draper must embrace his front-and-center role with the new Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce if they want to survive past the start-up phase. The song could easily be about Dick Whitman (I was born / in a dump / my mommy died / my daddy got drunk), and in many ways offered a glimpse into the future, of Don trying to reconcile his Dick with his Don, and just what will SCDP do to survive after Lee Garner, Jr. drives them off their very own Tobacco Road?
In the season’s second episode, Christmas Comes But Once a Year, Don is a lonely, pathetic drunk who schtups secretary Allison and Roger is forced to play the pandering fool to Lucky Strike’s closeted bastard Lee Garner, Jr. (Also like Roger, Lee Jr. is someone who inherited his position rather than worked for it.) Glen messes up Betty’s kitchen because, well, Betty just sucks. Hey, who ever said it was the most wonderful time of the year. The holidays suck, so it makes sense to use Teresa Brewer’s rendition of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. Is mommy cheating on daddy? Or is Santa Claus just some schmuck in a suit who may or may not be your father? I feel bad for Sally, Bobby and Gene, don’t you?
In The Good News, Don heads to his special place — Southern California — on the way to Mexico. He never gets to Mexico, returning home after learning Anna Draper, the one woman who knows Dick Whitman, is dying. And maybe Don is beginning to realize Dick Whitman is not someone he will ever escape. And maybe he does not want to. This episode featured a few songs, Jan & Dean’s Sidewalk Surfin plays when Stephanie, Anna and Dick/Don are in the restaurant, and Dick/Don dances with Stephanie to Patti Page’s Old Cape Cod. The juxtaposition of these songs is representative not only of how the sounds and times are changing, but of Dick/Don. Will he move into the future? Or is he, like Roger, becoming a relic of an era fast becoming a distant memory.
Back in NYC, Don and Pryce bond, pick up some hookers, and in the end, everyone is just really happy its 1965. Because this year just must be better than the last, right?
Episode #404 The Rejected, gave us Peggy Olson getting friendly with lesbians and attending underground artist parties where! Yay! Counterculture Peggy! During the party, Signed D.C. by Love played in the background. (Thank you, Lipp Sisters’ commenters!) A now-sober Freddy Rumsen made his return and we learned a little more about Dr. Faye Miller, who will obviously figure more prominently in later episodes. And diligent secretary Allison quit after getting schtupped by Don, but not without hurling a glass ashtray at him on her way out. And Pete Campbell successfully spread his seed a second time. We might feel really really sad for Peggy except she’s clearly the future while Pete, well, Pete’s a suit. Peggy’s best days and her greatest happiness still lie ahead. Pete will just go on being Pete.
Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce finds out they may have a chance at an account with Honda. They don’t get it, but they do prevent rival agency from landing it, as Don learns a little bit about the importance of honor amongst the Japanese. WWII vet Roger Sterling is also dealing with his inability to move into the present. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword was named after a popular book about the East during this time (although much of it would later be disregarded), and this is one of the strongest SCDP-centric episodes of the season. But it also gave us a lot of Peggy Olson, who is certainly on her way to coming into her own, so why not close things out with Doris Day’s I Enjoy Being a Girl? (Incidentally, I Enjoy Being A Girl was from the musical Flower Drum Song, which was all about being Chinese-American. Perhaps this is also representational of how little Americans knew about Asian culture, as well as a clear inability to differentiate Chinese from Japanese from Vietnamese and so on.) I can’t find Day’s version on iTunes, but here is Florence Henderson singing I Enjoy Being a Girl. Hey, she’s also blond and perky and was possibly described as the poor man’s Doris Day at one time, so this makes a decent substitution.
Episode #406 Waldorf Stories, closes with Skeeter Davis’ Ladder of Success. It’s about the loss of happiness as you watch someone climb up that success ladder. Apt because Don wins a CLIO for the Glo-Coat ad and well, things aren’t exactly going well, are they? He’s pretty much becoming an out-of-control drunk, losing days, going to bed with one woman and waking up with another. Waldorf Stories also marks the return of Ken Cosgrove, who has always been the perfect foil for the skeevy yet often endearing Pete Campbell. We also meet new Art Director Stan Rizzo, who is a total bro. But he is also played by former (very minor) child/teen actor Jay R. Ferguson and well, the name Stan Rizzo is a fantastic name for a 1960s bro. He also won’t get naked when Peggy does, proving this bro is all talk. This is also the second Draper-hired art director with the initials S. R., but I am quite sure this means absolutely nothing and is just something I randomly noticed while typing this long-winded post.
If I had to chose the best episode of the season, I would likely go with The Suitcase–which also probably secured Jon Hamm’s Emmy next August. (Can we also get Elisabeth Moss submitted in the Lead Actress category now? Thank you.) Don and Peggy’s relationship deepens, and now that Anna is gone, she’s really the only person who understands him. And with Peggy’s growing confidence in both herself and her career, it’s about more than receiving approval from Don, and as we’ll later see, Don needs Peggy’s approval just as much as she desires his. Last season, we were denied a lot of Peggy goodness with all the focus on life away from the office, but Weiner & Co. were good to us this season. The Suitcase closes with Simon & Garfunkel’s Bleeker Street from 1964′s Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M., apropos for where Don lives, but also for its biblical allegory set against Greenwich Village. The shadow of Dick Whitman touches not only the hand of the now-deceased Anna Draper, but also Don Draper. Both Dick and Don are shadows, and the only way Dick/Don can become whole is by reconciling his past with his present & future. It won’t be easy for him to do, even when he starts anew with good intentions.
The Summer Man focuses on Don starting anew. With good intentions. He’s even swimming and writing in a journal. He’s also cut down on his drinking, which means Budweiser in lieu of the scotch. We’re rooting for him, even if he does get back-of-the-taxi head from the bland Bethany Van Nuys, but like so much, we can attribute this to his ex-wife Betty being a real bitch. The show kicks off with The Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and closes at son Gene’s birthday party to Harry McClintock’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. This song talks about cigarettes growing on trees and was also featured in O Brother, Where Art Thou? It only sounds like a kids’ song.
The Beautiful Girls is all about the woman. This episode provided a long-awaited reunion of sorts between Joan Holloway (I will NEVER call her Joan Harris) and Roger Sterling. Nothing makes people hornier than getting mugged. Sadly, Ms. Blakenship drops dead at her desk (She died like she lived: Surrounded by the people she answered phones for. — Roger Sterling) and our girl Sally Draper runs away from her increasingly volatile home life to find Don in the city. Peggy goes on a date with the crusading journalist and Dr. Blondie Faye Miller tells Don she’s not good with children, and all of these events will lead to some big changes which we are also starting to realize are inevitable.
At least two Petula Clark songs were used during The Beautiful Girls — Downtown and I Know A Place. Using Clark’s music so prominently makes sense in an episode concentrating on the show’s female characters. She was very much an “It Girl” during this era.
The tenth episode of the season, Hands and Knees, was the most nerve-wracking episode in recent memory. The first 15 minutes alone… Where to even begin? Joan is pregnant with Roger’s baby. Lane Pryce is in love with a chocolate bunny and his asshole father is not pleased. Lucky Strike is pulling out but Roger Sterling isn’t telling anyone. (And will Sally Draper see The Beatles at Shea Stadium?) Don dealing with the possibility Dick Whitman may be revealed during a routine federal security check held by a potential government-contracted client was only part of the insanity. While all is “taken care of” in under 50 minutes, it’s hard not to feel a bit sad. Dr. Faye Miller may know Don’s secret and stood by him in one of his darkest hours, but we can already tell he’s begun distancing himself from her. After all, she knows he’s not really Don Draper. Hands and Knees provided one of the best closing credits songs which really needs zero explanation — The Beatles Do You Want to Know a Secret? It’s an instrumental version by Santo & Johnny, but the original was sung by George Harrison and may be found on Please Please Me.
Episode #411 Chinese Wall is when the shit hits the fan — Cosgrove finds out Lucky Strike has signed with BBDO and SCDP clients start jumping ship. Don asks Dr. Faye to compromise her professional ethics and Pete’s kid is born. A Chinese Wall is the the barrier devised to separate those who make the financial decisions from those who may have information that affect those decisions. (For example, it’s why insider trading is not exactly legal.) As you can see, it makes for a nice title of this episode for numerous reasons, including the fact Joan has set up a Chinese Wall of sorts between Roger and herself, and secretary Megan’s seduction of Don. (Of course, Peggy lets down a few of her walls by having in-office nooners with Abe. Go Peggy!) The show closes with Jim Reeves’ Welcome to My World, which is an interesting choice as we’re about to discover, as its all about letting someone in. (Sample lyric? Ask and you’ll be given / The key to this world of mine)
Blowing Smoke brought back one of my favorite of Don’s paramours, beatnik artist Midge Daniels. But Midge is now a junkie with a junkie husband and she’s only trying to sell her art for her next fix. The fate of SCDP is still unknown and Don, without consulting anyone else, writes a letter stating SCDP will no longer take on any tobacco clients and takes out a page in the New York Times. A risky move, no? Will it secure the demise of SCDP? Probably not. Plus Etta James’ Trust In Me is played during the closing credits. Trust in Don…at least when it comes to the affairs of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
Before we knew it, season 4 was no more. Tomorrowland was more frustrating than satisfying, even though we got to see Peggy landing Topaz Pantyhose, the first new client to sign on since Lucky Strike left. We were thrilled Joan kept her & Roger’s baby, also because we really want to see how she pulls it off. We were even more thrilled when Peggy and Joan bonded over the stupidity of the male co-workers. But on a season built on the hope Don might actually do the right thing, we saw him setting up to make the same mistakes all over again.
Don’t cry over a spilled milk(shake), perhaps–we already know schtupping and putting a ring on maybe-not-altruistic secretary Megan’s finger is a disaster waiting to happen. This didn’t change the fact he broke the heart of Dr. Faye. She does know his darkest secret and has a mafia daddy, so I wouldn’t blame her if she got a bit of retribution, however, as much as I have never cared about Don cheating on Betty during their marriage (likely because Betty is positively insufferable), this one pissed me off. Maybe it was because I’ve been there a few times. I don’t think Faye is “gonna lose it,” as many of the show’s fans of predicted–people said the same thing about teacher Suzanne last season. (Funny, this blogger noticed Faye Miller was the pseudonym used by Marilyn Monroe upon checking into a mental health facility in 1961.) Regardless of my personal feelings and preference for Dr. Faye Miller, who grew on me throughout the season, it is as simple as Don looking like a fool–just as accused Roger Sterling of being on the eve of his second marriage to Jane. And then there is Betty, who fired Carla(!), the only mother her children have ever known, and continues to torture her daughter for no reason other than that she is a child trapped in an adult’s body. Even replacement husband Henry has almost had enough of her. Lots of people believe Betty will end up killing herself, but Mother of TopIdol just thinks she will end up in a funny farm. The show ends with Sonny & Cher doing their biggest hit, I Got You Babe, as Don looks out on a NYC evening as Megan lies sleeping next to him. I don’t know if that predicts much of anything, but Sonny & Cher didn’t last forever. It may just be a nod to that classic modern comedy Groundhog Day. What song is on the radio every time Bill Murray wakes up? You got it. And Don is just repeating his past mistakes…over and over again…